Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Challenge: Accepted (Roasted Acorn Squash and Avocado Salad)

I was browsing some of my favorite food blogs the other week, when something stuck out to me on My Madeleine: a roasted squash salad from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. Molly's blog is a great place for top-notch photography (I could spend hours looking at a tabletop alone) and honest-to-goodness recipes, present company being a great example. Plenty is a great book for produce: while Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian, it features only meatless recipes. It likewise offers gorgeous photos.

Taking a stab at it

So: squash, roasting, yogurt-lime dressing... it was a forgone conclusion that I'd fall in love with the idea. Similarly, it was a forgone conclusion that I'd have to monkey with it, somehow. I posted a comment mentioning a predilection for paprika and my intent to give it a try in the future and Molly mentioned she'd love to hear how it goes. I'll take any encouragement I can get, ergo "Challenge: accepted!"

I'm still not sure what it is that put me off about Ottolenghi's use of cardamom and allspice. Ordinarily I love these spices and they're a great pairing with squash, but something just didn't feel right. Laura is no fan of cardamom, which I don't quite understand. I think it has a smoky, sexy, floral element that lends itself especially well to Fall foods. It's also, however, a spice I'm starting to see in recipes somewhat ad nauseum. Is cardamom overplayed? I don't mean to sound like a hipster, but I think I liked it better before it was mainstream.


Instead, I riffed on the smoky theme by employing smoked paprika and ground cumin seeds. This pair screams Spanish food to me, but I also grab for them when making most Mexican dishes, so I think it makes for great harmony with chile and lime. The combination is one full of warm, smoky, spiciness with the cumin adding a dark, almost verdant note and the paprika chiming in with brightness and sweetness.

Since I was already pushing things south of the border in my mind, I also chose to add avocado. Some people can't handle avocado's buttery flavor and creamy texture, but I can't get enough. Especially in Montoursville. North-central Pennsylvanian cuisine is seriously lacking in avocados, so I have to add them in whenever I can. Avocados can be perfect just ripe from the skin: sliced into a salad or mashed to guacamole. In this case, I chose to spice and roast them right along with my acorn squash.

Rough 'em up

Roasting the avocados slows the oxidization process that turns their brilliant golden-green flesh black and causes the spice blend to form a crust across them. The end result is tender nuggets that seem almost deep fried. To contrast with the new addition, I figured this salad could also use some actual lettuce, as well. I recommend mâche. Also known as "lamb's lettuce," mâche comes in tender, clovery clusters of gently lobed leaves. Its delicate texture and mild flavor makes it a perfect bed for the other ingredients.

Have we been properly introduced?

Roasted acorn squash and avocado salad, yogurt lime dressing
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, by way of My Madeleine

Like with most ingredients that offer the choice, I enjoy leaving the skin on the squash. It saves you time and adds texture and color, what's not to love?

1 medium acorn squash, roughly chopped
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs smoked paprika
1 tbs ground cumin seeds
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
5 oz Greek yogurt (or so, I used a single serving tub of Oikos that was 5.3)
2 fresh limes, juiced
2 tbs hot sauce (I used Cholula, add more to taste or use 1+ chile peppers, finely sliced)
1 tsp dried oregano
4 bunches fresh, tender mâche greens, washed
4 tbs sunflower seeds and/or pepitas (optional)
Additional lime slices for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heavy hitters

Slice the stem end off the squash and use this now-stable base to quarter it lengthwise. Scrape out seeds and pulp and chop roughly, removing cut pieces to the baking sheet. Scoop bites of avocado out of the skin using a small spoon and mix with the squash.

I call it: Squashenge
Drizzle the squash and avocado with olive oil, season with paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Toss evenly to coat. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes for caramellized and slightly blackened, or 30 minutes for golden brown.

Full flavored

While the vegetables roast, prepare the dressing. Combine the yogurt, lime juice, hot sauce and oregano. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until needed, allowing the flavors to blend.

To serve, place a handful of mâche onto the center of each plate and top with roasted squash and avocados. Sprinkle with dressing and pepitas and garnish with additional slices of fresh lime.

Table for two



Laura said...

I feel like my hatred of cardamom has something to do with the fact that I always encounter it unprepared, when and where I least expect it. Like running into someone you know at Target - you might be happy to see them some other time, but not when you're wearing a giant t-shirt and you haven't washed your hair.

Paprika and cumin, however, are old friends I'm always glad to see. This meal sounds delicious.

Unknown said...

Squashenge rocks!

J said...

Thanks, all!

Laura, I love your explanation. I don't usually feel badly about flavors taking me be surprise, but I guess that really depends on the flavor.

I really do recommend this salad quite highly, though, it's a great combination of familiar and unexpected.

AEthanP said...

Lmfao at the target comparison, Laura!!